When Oscar came to stay, he was keen to go to the library and get hold of a book in this series as he’s been reading them at school and enjoying the fact that he was able to read a chapter book independently. He was delighted when we found this one on the shelves and between us, we were able to finish it before he returned home.
Let’s face it: Greg Heffley will never change his wimpy ways. Somebody just needs to explain that to Greg’s father. You see, Frank Heffley actually thinks he can get his son to toughen up, and he enlists Greg in organized sports and other “manly” endeavors. Of course, Greg is easily able to sidestep his father’s efforts to change him. But when Greg’s dad threatens to send him to military academy, Greg realizes he has to shape up . . . or get shipped out.
I can see why this series is so very enjoyable – hapless Greg gets himself into so many scrapes. Some explore fairly accurately the travails of school life that many children reading this book will be able to identify with – and some that tip into outright farce. Greg is an appealing protagonist, managing to be both inept during PE and clueless during lessons, when he regularly gets into trouble for daydreaming, or even falling asleep. What stops this becoming something much darker, is that Greg is perfectly happy being exactly who he is and feels the rest of the world ought consider changing around him. He lives with both parents and two brothers, one is older and the other a baby.
The humour is direct and helped along by the amusing cartoon drawings on each page that breaks up the text, giving new readers extra confidence and information. Kinney has a really good narrative flow – the diary format means that each couple of pages contains an event or happening that can be read as a standalone, while the main, overarching problem – that of Greg’s Dad being increasingly worried about Greg’s unmanly attitude to life – is the theme that underpins the story. Again, this makes the book very accessible for new readers still struggling with decoding words. There is a limited vocabulary with the occasional harder word added that is obvious in the context, again encouraging children to continue reading with a feeling of achievement.
I’m conscious that I’ve slipped into teacher-mode while reviewing this book and may have given the impression that it is one of those stories that children love and adults hate. But this isn’t the case. Oscar made a good start reading this one himself, but as he wanted to finish it before returning home, he asked me to read it to him during both days and as his bedtime story. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and although Greg is a Canadian kid in the state school system, the experience crosses over effectively so that my British grandson and I also giggled at his problems and could identify with him. Highly recommended for emerging and newly independent readers.